Big Woods WMA, New Parker’s Branch Tract Open to the Public

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) announced today that it has purchased 1,965 acres in Sussex County, Virginia, adjoining the existing Big Woods Wildlife Management Area and Big Woods State Forest.  This acquisition, approved by the DGIF Board for the price of $3.8 million, supports the DGIF’s efforts to restore pine-savannah habitat and provide additional public land in an underserved area of Virginia. Read the rest of this article…

  • November 10th, 2016

2016 Acorn Production Varies By Region

shutterstock_510076396Over 200,000 hunters will take to the woods this fall in search of deer, turkey, and bear as well as a host of smaller game species.  One thing all of these hunters need to know is the importance of acorns in the diets of the game they hunt.  Acorns are a nutritious food providing protein, fat, and energy in the diets of 90 species of game and non-game animals in Virginia.  As such, they are a staple food for Virginia’s wildlife, providing important resources to meet the physical challenges of winter weather and reproduction in the following spring. Read the rest of this article…

  • November 8th, 2016

Record High Wild Turkey Population Likely to Remain Stable

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While Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ biologists believe that Virginia’s wild turkey population is at record high levels, wild turkey populations can fluctuate considerably from year-to-year.  As such, every August, many Department of Game and Inland Fisheries employees record observations of wild turkeys during their routine work travels.  Known as the annual “Brood Survey”, Department employees record the number of turkeys they see, paying attention to accurately count the number of young birds within broods.  By August, young, recently hatched turkeys, called poults, are likely to survive until the fall and their presence or absence in the turkey population at this time of year provides biologists with important insight into future population trends.

Overall, the 2016 wild turkey brood survey revealed wild turkey numbers slightly below the long-term average on a statewide basis.  However, production of young turkeys varied across the Commonwealth.  In the Northwest Mountain Region, observers reported very high numbers of broods and very high numbers of young birds within broods,  the best of any in the state.  This is encouraging news for the region because turkey densities are very low in many counties in Northwest Mountain Region.  Brood numbers were also high in the Tidewater region but the number of poults seen in broods was very low.  In the balance of the state (North Piedmont, South Piedmont, and South Mountain), the numbers of broods seen was below average, furthermore, the number of young birds within broods was down.

Poor weather conditions involving extended periods of cooler, wet weather were observed throughout much of the brood season in 2016.  The negative impacts of these conditions on poult survival appeared throughout most of the state this year.  The turkey population influences from reproduction seemed almost appropriate this year as the Region with the lowest turkey population experienced the greatest recruitment, while the Region with the highest turkey population (Tidewater) experienced the lowest recruitment.  Regardless, turkey enthusiasts will continue to enjoy turkey populations that are still at or near record levels for modern times in the Commonwealth.

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Figure 1. Turkey recruitment indices for Virginia, 2007-16.

For more information, contact:

See also:

  • November 7th, 2016

DGIF’s New Vision, Mission and Goal Statements

Agency Director Bob Duncan announced the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has updated its Agency Vision, Mission and Goal Statements.

The new Vision, Mission and Goal statements were developed by an internal Strategic Thinking Team through a comprehensive process that included input from DGIF staff, external partners, focus groups, and stakeholders.  The final review included public comment opportunities and approval by the DGIF Executive Board and Senior Leadership Team.

“Conserve, Connect, Protect—these are not simply words to us.  We are proud of the work we have accomplished over the last 100 years but we also realize the challenges ahead are significant, and even more daunting.  The new vision, mission and goal statements are the distillation of what our employees work for everyday at the Department,” said Bob Duncan, Executive Director, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Vision Statement 

  • Leading wildlife conservation and inspiring people to value the outdoors and their role in nature.

Mission Statement

  • Conserve and manage wildlife populations and habitat for the benefit of present and future generations.
  • Connect people to Virginia’s outdoors through boating, education, fishing, hunting, trapping, wildlife viewing, and other wildlife-related activities.
  • Protect people and property by promoting safe outdoor experiences and managing human-wildlife conflicts.

Goal Statements

 Conserve

  • Conserve sustainable and diverse native wildlife populations and ecosystems.
  • Manage wildlife populations and habitats to meet the balanced needs among diverse human communities.

Connect

  • Recruit, retain, and re-engage people who enjoy wildlife and boating activities.
  • Promote people’s awareness and appreciation of their role in wildlife conservation.

Protect

  • Minimize wildlife-related conflicts while balancing conservation goals and human benefits.
  • Promote public safety for all people enjoying Virginia’s wildlife and waterways.

 Organizational

  • Cultivate an effective and efficient organization that supports the agency vision and mission
  • Create an inclusive culture that fosters collaboration, diversity, innovation and transparency.

Learn more about DGIF»

  • November 7th, 2016

Drivers: Stay Alert, Deer are on the Move

Autumn is here, and along with colorful leaves, crisp air, and shorter days, it means Virginia’s white-tailed deer will be on the move.  With daylight savings time just around the corner, many motorists will be commuting in the dark, increasing the likelihood of their vehicle colliding with a deer.

Fall is the breeding season for deer, and consequently, deer are more active now than at any other time of the year. One-half to two-thirds of all deer/vehicle collisions occur in the months of October, November and December. While less than 2 percent of vehicle fatalities and injuries involve deer collisions in Virginia, hitting a deer can cause considerable damage to both people and property.

Wildlife biologists with DGIF estimate the population of white-tailed deer in the Commonwealth at this time of year to be approximately one million animals. DGIF sets seasons and bag limits and other hunting regulations to manage the deer population. Each year, hunters in Virginia harvest approximately 220,000 deer. Without hunting, white-tailed deer could double their population within five years, due to their rate of reproduction.

As part of its outreach mission, DGIF has worked with the Virginia Department of Education to incorporate advice on avoiding collisions into the driver’s education manual used by thousands of new drivers every year. If you have questions about white-tailed deer or deer behavior, please visit the Department’s website.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recommend the following tips to drivers to avoid hitting a deer:

  1. When driving, particularly at night (from dusk to dawn) slow down and be attentive. If you see one deer, likely there will be others. If one deer crosses the road as you approach, others may follow.
  2. Deer habitually travel the same areas; therefore deer crossing signs have been installed by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Use caution when you see these signs.
  3. Drivers should apply brakes, even stop if necessary, to avoid hitting a deer, but should never swerve out of the lane to miss a deer. A collision with another vehicle, tree or other object is likely to be more serious than hitting a deer.
  4. Rely on your caution and your own senses, not deer whistles you can buy for your car. These devices have not been shown to be effective.
  5. Any person involved in a collision with a deer or bear while driving a motor vehicle, thereby killing the animal, should immediately report the accident to a Conservation Police Officer or other law enforcement officer in the county or city where the accident occurred.
  6. Drivers who collide with a deer or bear, thereby killing the animal, may keep it for their own use provided that they report the accident to a law enforcement officer where the accident occurred and the officer views the animal and gives the person a possession certificate.
  • November 2nd, 2016

Special Archery Fishing Category for State Record Fish

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This HUGE carp taken by Hae Kim at Claytor Lake looks to be the largest ever shot with a bow! It weighs in at 45lbs, 7oz, with a length of 41 ¼ inches and a 30 inch girth. If certified by the State Record Fish Committee, it will become a Virginia State Record.

DGIF is now acknowledging archery taken fish for State Record recognition in a special archery fishing category.  Archery fishing, commonly known as bowfishing, is becoming increasingly popular among anglers of Virginia.  In 2014, bowfishing anglers requested that DGIF recognize fish taken by archery for State Records since the sport was growing in popularity, the sport was considered a recreational and not commercial activity, and a fishing license is required to take fish with archery gear.

The State Record Fish Review Committee with DGIF reviewed the request and determined, through a majority vote, that archery anglers should be recognized for their exceptional catches. Since the gear was completely different from traditional hook-and-line tackle, it was determined there should be an archery only category. Additionally, the agency now recognizes large catches with archery gear in the Trophy Fish Award Program.

Only species of fish that can be legally taken in public water with archery gear (bowfin and catfish below the Fall-Line, longnose gar, and common carp) may be considered for a State Record or Trophy Fish Awards.  Visit the Trophy Fish section of the DGIF website for the trophy fish size chart, rules for certifying fish, and agency contacts.

  • November 1st, 2016

Virginia, Ontario and the Loggerhead Shrike Connection

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Loggerhead Shrike banded in Smyth County, VA. Photo by Rich Bailey.

By Sergio Harding, DGIF Nongame Bird Biologist

On May 16 of this year, DGIF personnel, working with partners from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, banded a loggerhead shrike in a pasture in Smyth County, VA.  Shrike banding is being coordinated across multiple states in order to study the connections between breeding and wintering populations of this declining species.  Although this was one of several shrikes banded in Virginia in 2016, this particular banding event was memorable because of a group of cows that had gathered nearby to watch us.  A bull in the group started huffing at us just as we were getting ready to band.  Bird in hand, we collected our equipment and retreated to the other side of a gate, away from any potential bovine interference. And so it was that this shrike got its leg bands, ‘Yellow over Dark Blue’ on the left, ‘Yellow over Silver’ on the right (YE/DB YE/SI, in banding notation).  The bird turned out to be the female of a breeding pair with an active nest.  The molt pattern in the wing feathers revealed that she was just in the second year of her life.  We took some quick measurements and released her some minutes later.  With evening setting in and our work completed, we moved on, with plans to revisit the site in the winter to see whether the bird would stick around.

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Pasture in Smyth County, VA where the shrike was banded.

However, circumstances brought this bird back into our lives a lot sooner than expected.  Last week, a biologist from Wildlife Preservation Canada was reviewing footage from a trail camera.  The camera was set up to monitor a release site for captive-bred loggerhead shrike in Ontario, Canada, where the species is endangered. And there, on an image from August 29, was the Virginia bird, sporting its ‘YE/DB YE/SI’ bands.  The release site is over 550 miles to the north of the site in Smyth County where we had banded the shrike.  This is not the first documented case of a long-distance dispersal by a loggerhead shrike after the breeding season.  However, the fact that the shrike traveled northward was completely unexpected.

This news capped an already exciting week related to loggerhead shrike:  an attentive citizen scientist captured footage in Augusta County, VA of a banded, captive-reared shrike that had been released in Ontario in late August.  This marked the third banded Ontario shrike documented in Virginia within the past 5 years, firmly establishing a link between the Canadian province and our state while simultaneously defying the odds of re-sighting this many banded birds.  This reciprocal ‘exchange’ of shrikes further highlights these connections between populations, while also raising interesting questions.  Because shrike do not spend the winter in Ontario, we expect that our Smyth County bird has already moved back south by now.  Will she return to her site in Smyth County for the winter?  You can be sure that we’ll be there looking for her, with high expectations and eyes wide open.

  • November 1st, 2016

Celebrating Virginia’s Snakes in Honor of National Reptile Awareness Day

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Child holding an Eastern Kingsnake. Photo by John White.

Every October 21st is National Reptile Awareness Day, a day created to promote education, conservation and appreciation for reptiles. Reptiles are a group of animals that include snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, and tuataras. Reptiles are characterized by having dry scales that are shed periodically. The vast majority of reptiles are cold blooded, which means that they cannot generate their own body heat and depend on outside sources to raise their body temperature.

In honor of Reptile Awareness Day, we are celebrating Virginia’s snakes, a group of reptiles which play an important role in our environment, but are often misunderstood. There are 32 species of snakes in the Commonwealth, of which, the vast majority are considered harmless. Snake species occur across Virginia, from coastal marshes to mountain ridgetops and even in urban areas under buildings.  There are only 3 species of venomous snakes occurring in the Commonwealth: Northern Copperhead, Eastern Cottonmouth, and Timber Rattlesnake.

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Festival participant holding a Cornsnake at the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival. Photo by Jessica Ruthenberg.

Snakes differ from other reptiles by having no legs, ears, or eyelids, and by possessing only one functional lung. The most notable characteristic of a snake is its long, slender body. A snake’s muscular body and flexible spine allows it to climb effortlessly, swim, and slip into the smallest spaces. Although snakes lack ears and cannot technically hear, they do have the ability to detect low frequency vibrations from the air and ground.

Depending on the species, Virginia’s snakes may mate in the spring, summer, or fall.
Leathery shelled eggs are usually deposited in May or June, with young hatching in late summer. But not all snakes lay eggs; the young of many of Virginia’s snakes are actually born alive. With young that are born alive, the eggs are held inside the body and live young are born in late summer.

Snakes play important roles as predators and prey.  All snakes are carnivorous, which means that they eat other animals and do not eat plants. Snakes possess the special ability to

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Eastern Kingsnake eating a Copperhead. Kingsnakes are immune to the poison of Virginia’s venomous snakes. Photo by Tricia Pears.

swallow their prey whole because they have two independent lower jaws connected by aligament that can expand greatly. Major prey items include invertebrates (animals lacking a backbone), fish, amphibians, other reptiles, birds, bird eggs, and a variety of mammals. Snakes play an invaluable role in our environment by controlling many pests, including mice and rats. Snakes also play a key role in the web of life; they are food for a variety of predators including certain mammals, birds, and other snakes.

Snake Conservation

The greatest predators of snakes are humans. Misconceptions about snakes have made them among the most persecuted of all animals. Hundreds, if not thousands, are needlessly killed every year in the Commonwealth. A common reaction to an encounter with a snake is to kill

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State Endangered Canebrake Rattlesnake. Photo by J.D. Kleopfer.

it on sight whether or not it poses a danger. However, the fact is that most snakes are harmless, and even dangerous ones would rather flee than fight.  Once we begin to learn about snakes, we can replace our misconceptions with facts and our fears with curiosity, and we can begin to appreciate their important roles in our natural environment.

Fourteen of Virginia’s 32 snake species are included in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan as Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including the State Endangered Canebrake Rattlesnake (the southeastern Virginia population of Timber Rattlesnake) and the Northern Pinesnake. A century ago, the Northern Pinesnake was considered common in several parts of Virginia, but there have been no sightings of this species in the last 25 years, so it’s been presumed extirpated from the Commonwealth. The extirpation of this species is most likely due to fire suppression, habitat

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Festival participants admiring a Cornsnake at the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival. Photo by Jessica Ruthenberg.

loss and fragmentation, and human persecution. The Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) recently participated in an investigative study that demonstrated Northern Pinesnake habitat (dry open slopes with vegetated cover) is still available in Virginia and that it would be feasible to reintroduce this endangered species into its historic range.

Simple ways to help conserve and protect snakes and other reptiles:

  • Support efforts to establish and protect natural areas.
  • Provide habitat for wildlife on your own property by keeping portions of it unmowed and ungrazed and by planting native plants.
  • Reduce your use of fertilizers and pesticides in your yard and garden.
  • Recycle and do not litter or pollute.
  • Join a conservation organization.
  • Make a contribution to DGIF’s Nongame Wildlife Fund.
  • Do not kill snakes.
  • Keep learning about snakes and teach others what you learn, so that all may appreciate this unique group of Virginia’s wildlife. More information on Virginia’s snakes may be found in these resources:
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Festival participants learning about a Cornsnake at the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival. Photo by Jessica Ruthenberg.

  • October 21st, 2016

Hunters: Be on the Lookout for DGIF’s Research Bears

Radio-collar bear research projectFor the first time in over a decade, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) biologists are radio-collaring adult female bears in Virginia. Data acquired through this project will provide new insights into the movements, denning habits, and home ranges of wild, female bears in unstudied areas of Virginia. Additionally, these female bears will provide a source of surrogate mothers for orphaned black bear cubs.

There are currently 10 adult females fitted with GPS radio-collars in portions of the Shenandoah Valley and in southcentral Virginia. GPS radio-collars are linked to satellites which transmit location data to the biologists. In addition to the 10 bears collared currently, another 10 will be deployed in 2017. Most all of these bears are expected to have cubs this winter. DGIF is asking hunters to not harvest these radio-collared bears that are providing valuable information about movement and biology.

Using wild, female bears as surrogate mothers for orphan cubs has been a successful practice in Virginia. Female bears are excellent mothers and will readily take orphan cubs. Each female bear will be visited by DGIF biologists in her winter den, and surrogate mothers will be given an appropriate number of orphan cubs depending on her condition, age, and the number of natural cubs already present.

This exciting project is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, but deployment of the radio-collars will be rotated periodically throughout the state so that no one location or female bear will acquire orphan cubs over an extended period of time.

Bear research project: radio-collarWe hope that each of these radio-collared bears will provide several years of service to the Department’s bear project. Questions about these bears or the project can be directed to Jaime Sajecki, the VDGIF Bear Project Leader.

Please visit our bear page to view information ranging from general bear facts, the Black Bear Management Plan, how-to videos and information on trash can retrofitting and electric fencing, as well as tips for hunters and other useful links. KEEP BEARS WILD!

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  • October 3rd, 2016